Let us save rural Rwanda
When the then police spokesperson, John Uwamungu, approached us to cover an “operation to crackdown and burn illicit drugs” little did I know that I would come face to face with the heartbreaking realities of drug abuse and consumption of crude alcohol!
This expedition opened my eyes on a number of fronts. In the first place, I thought we were going at a nearby police station thinking that it’s the conventional approach of cracking down and arresting the culprits.
But to a pleasant surprise it turned out that police in collaboration with local authorities had mobilized locals for a sensitization session and collective participation in combating the vice.
All the illicit drugs and dangerous local brew (locally known as Kanyanga) which had been confiscated in various villages in Gasabo district had been assembled in a small village of Mbandazi found in Rusororo sector. People had gathered there to witness the destruction, by burning, of the collected items.
On our way to Rusororo we had a stop for a drink in one of the eating places in Kabuga, one of the police officers ordered for milk and the other after an inquisitive analysis of the place ordered for a soda, and then he momentarily looked behind the shelves where milk was served. He there and then called the proprietor of the restaurant.
In what sounded like an outburst from a long held premonition, the police officer exclaimed, “When will you stop poisoning Rwandans!”
He pointed to the visibly old and untidy towel which was being used to wipe cups in which the milk would be served.
This outburst coincided with my instinct of not taking milk in any mediocre restaurant, which explains why I had earlier ordered for a soda as well.
Being a humanist by philosophical orientation I had a number of misgivings on how police here does its things but on this one they won my admiration.
As we drove on in a bumpy and dusty road going to Rusororo, we passed two police pick-ups filled with jerry cans heading in the direction we too were. At first I didn’t give it a lot of thought but after a while, the truth hit me that the cars were carrying the infamous local brew.
Trekking from their respective homes and villages, most of the community members were visibly weary and many especially the men on top of being barefoot were emaciated which spoke volumes about their livelihoods.
You could see that these substances have taken a distressing toll on them.
The playground where we parked was aligned with many jerry cans filled with the confiscated substances. Within an instant the area’s Executive Secretary, Willie Mutabazi, came forward and explained to us the story of the substances in the jerry cans.
He poured down some of the brew. It had a brownness which was closer to red. On asking what this was, a man in his mid-thirties explained that this is local brew made from bananas and sorghum.
He added that in order to minimize the costs of producing the brew, some shrewd brewers mix it with anthill soil to obtain the brown colour there by saving on the number of bananas and sorghum needed.
He went ahead and poured down some of the brew mixed with soil, a sudden wave of fear swept through me and my mind swiftly went back to the police officer’s earlier disgusted outburst.
That’s when I gathered how poisonous people can decide to be to others in the name of a profit.
The visiting officers were equally shocked because this was a new revelation. Jerry cans of the dangerous local gin lay besides the countless sachets containing local gin which we were informed sneaks into the country from neighbouring Uganda.
In what sounded like a parental appeal shortly before the destruction of these substances, the Mayor of Gasabo district Claudine Nyinawagaga expressed disappointment in the locals for neglecting the progressive responsibilities they had agreed to undertake during her previous visit and instead having embarked on brewing and consuming “self poisoning” substances.
“Many of the things you told me to do for you are almost complete. The health centre which you wanted within your reach is just a few weeks away from operation.But look at how far you have drifted from self responsibility to self poisoning,” the visibly disillusioned mayor said.
The crackdown had come into effect after a tip off from whistle blowers together with local authorities who contacted police leading to consequent confiscation of these substances.
It was noted that drug abuse and consumption of illegal local gin (Kanyanga) has had a devastating impact on the general health and security of many people in Rusororo. Also, that many homes have been broken due to these illicit substances.
In a mega demonstration which was carried out together with the locals, police burnt all the marijuana drugs and all the illicit substances which had been confiscated and commended the whistle blowers who had tipped police.
The cases of drug abuse and illegal alcohol related cases have been on an increase in Rusororo, about 107 cases from January this year.
In a passionate appeal, the head of Community Policing on the national level Emanuel Butera called upon locals, especially family heads to live responsibly in a way that gives their children a good example as opposed to being the first to consume the dangerous substances.
“How do you expect to raise responsible and positive children when you the parent brew and consume these substances?
The children adopt what they see you doing. It is therefore your challenge to live responsibly and give them a good example,” he pointed out.
He also called upon women to take up the mantle of “cleaning up” their homes, village and country by being the first to report and condemn the consumption and usage of these substances.
A person convicted with brewing and selling of illicit drugs and alcohol is sentenced to a jail term between 1 to 5 years.
People in all different facets of society should have a contributory role in eradicating and cracking down the usage of illicit drugs because the country cannot afford losing its present and future energy in such a potentially demeaning manner.